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A Tale of Three Biofilm Cities on Aeration Diffusers

Fine pore diffusers are devices that pump air into wastewater in order to stimulate biodegradation of organic matter. Aeration of wastewater incur a large maintenance cost due to the buildup of biofilm, which is one of the biggest costs to the operation of sewage treatment plants. The biofilms are likened to complex microbial cities where the microbes interact with one another. Microbes in biofilms can take on curious characteristics, which allow them to be more resistant to harmful substances than their free-living counterparts. The fact that organisms exist that can exploit even this most undesirable niche/environment give new meaning to the saying “Life will find a way”. This means that expensive cleaning methods are required to eliminate the biofilms. Could there be a material that could delay the formation of the biofilm and increase the interval of required maintenance? Researchers at the University of California Irvine and Alabama State University sought to answer this question. Next-generation sequencing was employed to determine the microbial composition and function of the biofilms on three different substrates (Ethylene propylene diene monomer, Polyurethane and Silicone) and compare them to the bulk solution at three and nine months. This study found five main points: (i) The microbial composition and function of the bulk solution was virtually the same at the two sampling times. (ii) The microbial composition and function of the the diffusers was more differentiated from the bulk solution at nine-months than three months. (iii) The composition and function of the microbial communities on the diffuser substrates were different from one another. (iv) Certain genes were more prevalent in the biofilm of some diffusers than the bulk solution. The article describing this research was published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology on June 13th, 2016. The article is entitled: “A survey of biofilms on wastewater aeration diffusers suggests bacterial community composition and function vary by substrate type and time”.

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